Stop chugging green juice: many gut cleanses come rooted in junk science, but true gut health starts with nourishing foods.
Fad gut cleanses and diets abound on the internet, from ultra-restrictive protocols to dangerous “cleanses” that leave your body devoid of key nutrients.
In reality, your gut needs nourishment and nutrients to repair itself from damage, so a gut health diet that starves you of calories or healthy foods will do more harm than good.
The good news is that a healthy, science-backed gut cleanse can be easy. It won’t work overnight, because lasting changes never happen that fast, but you can take simple steps toward supporting your gut health today.
Why Your Gut Health Matters
Humans have about 25 feet of intestines in the body, which contain billions of bacteria that regulate 80 percent of the immune system. The intestines also control 100 percent of the gut’s barrier, which is how nutrients cross into the bloodstream.
While there are no exact statistics on how many people have leaky gut, there are staggering statistics for disorders that have been linked to it: 50 million Americans have autoimmune disease, 32 million have allergies, 3 million have Celiac disease, and 3 million have irritable bowel disease. (2, 3, 4, 5)
There are even more conditions tied to the disorder, like fibromyalgia, asthma, arthritis, obesity, and mental illness. (6)
Without a healthy gut barrier, you cannot be healthy. It might take time for symptoms, diseases, or disorders to appear, but if your diet hurts your gut function, leaky gut is bound to rear its head.
This may sound scary – but it’s very possible to restore gut health even after it’s been wrecked.
A true gut health cleanse isn’t a fad diet, but rather a dietary protocol that supplies the body with nutrients and other essentials needed to support the gut’s barrier function.
Signs You Need a Gut Cleanse
Modern life is not kind to the gut. We can thank increased stress, poor sleep, a diet high in processed foods and refined sugar, higher intake of antibiotics, and side effects from different medications for weakening the lining of our intestinal walls.
If you have an unhealthy gut, your body will give you signals. These may include symptoms like: (12)
- Intestinal pain
- Acid reflux
- Unintentional weight changes like loss or rapid gain
- Thyroid problems
- Autoimmune disorders
- Insulin resistance
- High blood sugar
- Joint pain
- Muscle aches
- Sleep problems or chronic tiredness
- Skin problems or itching
- Food allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities
- Frequent headaches
- Mood disorders
What You Need to Know Before You Start
The internet is rife with gut cleanses and detoxes that claim to work in one day, three days, or two weeks. Many of these protocols involve serious calorie restriction, lots of juicing, or special shakes or powders. This is not the way to restore gut health.
Other gut cleanses suggest taking several expensive supplements. This is also ineffective: you do not need to buy specialized products from anyone in order to heal your gut.
What you do need is a balanced perspective and knowledge of gut cleanse basics. This is the protocol I’ve used with hundreds of clients to restore gut balance, and these are the basic facts that you need to know before you get started.
It doesn’t happen in 3 days.
A gut cleanse is a long-term process that, for some, evolves into a lifestyle change. Cleanses that promise to work in a few days ignore the scientific fact that it takes time to regenerate cells and restore barrier function.
While research shows that the gut might heal in two weeks, it usually takes six to 12 weeks. (13)
It doesn’t have to be “perfect” to work.
A lot of cleanses say you have to follow their juicing, fasting, or diet protocol perfectly for it to work. But cells don’t respond to a single meal, but rather a habitual pattern of intake and nutrient presence.
This means that your gut isn’t healing in response to each individual meal you eat, but the overall presence of nutrients in your lifestyle. One unhealthy meal won’t sabotage all of your gut health work, but binging on unhealthy foods won’t do you any favors, either.
It doesn’t have to be expensive.
You don’t have to invest in expensive supplements or obscure foods to heal your gut. In fact, working toward gut health is more about getting back to basics and filling in some nutritional gaps. It won’t cost you a small fortune to boost your gut health.
It needs to be a commitment.
While it doesn’t have to be perfect, fixing gut health requires a commitment. It won’t get better if you only work on it sporadically. You need to make it a priority, even if you’re not perfect 100 percent of the time.
It shouldn’t make you feel worse.
If gut-healthy diet changes make you feel worse, it’s time to involve a nutrition or medical professional. A gut health diet should lessen symptoms, not worsen them.
If you experience worse digestive symptoms, pain, or anything out of the norm, something else could be going on.
It might need to be supervised by a nutrition professional.
Even if you don’t have problems, involving a doctor or nutritionist could help you track your progress. They can run tests to get your baseline and determine how well your body is responding to your new dietary changes. For some, this can be highly motivating.
How to Do a Gut Cleanse That Works
If you’ve decided it’s time to elevate your gut health, here’s the step-by-step plan for how to eat, supplement, and live to achieve your goals.
1. Eliminate trigger foods.
While everyone has different levels of sensitivity or intolerance to certain foods, you have to eliminate foods to which you know you are allergic or sensitive.
You can’t heal if you’re indulging in the very foods that are causing your biggest problems.
Beyond that, other foods are associated with intestinal permeability problems even when you aren’t sensitive or allergic. Limit or avoid foods like:
- Unfermented dairy
- Refined sugar
- Refined oils
- Synthetic sweeteners or additives
- Artificial flavorings, colorings, or preservatives
- High-sugar foods, like dessert (even Paleo ones)
2. Manage stress and aggravating lifestyle factors.
You can’t always control stress, but so much of the time it controls us. Stress alters the way that the body digests food, limiting the nutrients you can absorb. To heal your gut, you need to address your stress.
This means quality sleep, breathing deeply, and moving your body. You don’t have to start a formal exercise program, but you do need to move. Try yoga or walking for gentle forms of exercise that can help decrease stress levels. (14, 15) Meditation and deep breathing can also help to reduce the effects of stress on the body. (16)
3. Eat more fiber.
Women are meant to eat 25 grams of fiber a day, while men should get 38 grams. Most Americans fall woefully short of these recommendations, with only five percent of the population meeting their daily requirements. (17)
If you’re not used to eating a high-fiber diet, don’t immediately jump into eating the full daily requirement. Instead, ease your way into it over the course of a few weeks to avoid bloating and sudden intestinal changes.
If you find that even with diet you’re still struggling to get your daily grams in, try adding a fiber supplement. Start with a quarter dose and work your way up to a full dose.
4. Eat nutrient-dense foods.
You also need to ensure that you’re meeting your daily needs for all vitamins and minerals. This happens when you eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and protein.
Your goal is to eat as many whole foods as possible, while limiting anything that comes from a package. You don’t have to be 100 percent perfect at this – just aim for most of your food to be whole and unprocessed.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t cook it, but if you do prepare foods, use Paleo-friendly cooking oils (like avocado, ghee, and coconut) and avoid refined and processed oils like vegetable, canola, cottonseed, or grapeseed.
Some of the best nutrient-dense foods for leaky gut repair include:
- Bone broth
- Pastured chicken
- Grass-fed beef
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Leafy greens
- Sprouted seeds and nuts
- Wild-caught seafood, especially salmon
- Fermented vegetables
- Chicken broth
- Sweet potatoes
5. Supplement for intestinal wall repair.
The gut needs certain nutrients to repair the intestinal wall, like glutamine and collagen.
Glutamine is an amino acid required for the structural integrity of your gut wall and which helps maintain a healthy barrier function. It’s a “conditionally essential” amino acid, meaning that it’s not essential for basic cellular function, but when damage or certain conditions are present, it becomes necessary. (19)
Collagen is another amino acid-based supplement that supports gut integrity. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is associated with healthy barrier function of the skin and intestinal wall. (20)
6. Supplement for nutrient replacement.
Even with a great diet, you might not be getting enough of every single vitamin and mineral to restore optimal gut function. Supplementing to fill in these gaps is as simple as taking a multivitamin to ensure that your daily nutrient needs are met. Choose a product with bioactive nutrients that are easy to absorb.
7. Replenish good bacteria.
Some people struggle to eat fermented foods because it causes bloating or discomfort, but you can just as easily supplement with probiotics to achieve the same results.
Working to restore health to your gut is not impossible and it doesn’t have to feel like a full-time job. Make each of these changes over the course of six weeks, follow them for another six to 12 weeks, and your gut wall will be stronger for it.
Now that you know how to do a gut cleanse that works, let’s talk about the Do’s and Don’ts of Detoxing